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New EU labelling explained

03 December 2014

On 1st September 2014, an EU energy label came into force, which means manufacturers can no longer make or import vacuum cleaners with a motor that exceeds 1,600 watts. Four months on, Justin Binks, director of SEBO UK, assesses its effectiveness

Much has been written, from the perspective of domestic machines, about how the EU labelling requirements for vacuum cleaners will have negative consequences. 

What must be remembered is that, for the majority of commercial purchasers, the most important considerations when choosing a vacuum cleaner tend to be quality, performance, reliability, serviceability and the cost of ownership. The decision to buy is often based on past experience of products and manufacturers. Buying decisions based exclusively on the energy label are much less likely, although it is probable that some organisations will specify the more energy-efficient models due to environmental considerations.


Power struggle

At the heart of the labelling debate has tended to be the power of the motor, i.e. Wattage. Although with an upright cleaner, suction power is not really an issue because the rotating brush does much of the work, with a cylinder cleaner suction is key. With cylinders, when all else is equal, a more powerful motor will clean better. However,  a vacuum cleaner should never have been assessed by wattage alone and suction power and wattage are not the same. With the energy label, our key objections to the legislation have always concerned the testing procedures; particularly the tests for pick up. 

Interestingly, the label is designed to provide information on domestic household products regarding energy consumption, performance, noise, dust re-emission and other essential characteristics. Note the emphasis on ‘consumers’ and ‘household’ products; the tests used to gain an energy label rating are the same whether the product is a domestic or commercial model. This is like lumping HGV’s and vans in with passenger cars and assuming they are used in the same way which clearly they are not.

Both the hard floor and carpet pick up tests require that a special type of sand be used. This is not something that is normally collected by vacuum cleaners: generally 80% of what is picked up is fluff; hair and fibre. 


Equally unrepresentative is the format of the hard floor test. This involves removing dirt from a 10mm deep by 3mm wide crevice. It does not take into account the need to clean the surface of the floor. To achieve the suction necessary to clean the crevice, the vacuum cleaner head must be designed so it ‘seals’ down against the floor. In a real world situation this means that dirt on the surface of the floor is pushed along in front of the head, without being sucked up, while the device itself becomes hard to use because it ‘sticks’ to the floor.


To get an ‘A’ rating the vacuum cleaner has to pick up more than 111% of the ‘dirt’ in the crevice: Surely that tells us something about the test! Equally, the noise and filtration tests in no way make for a more efficient and better-designed vacuum cleaner. ‘Ease of use’ isn’t part of the tests. A vacuum cleaner designed exclusively around the tests would more than likely be bad at picking up stuff that you do need to pick up, good at picking up stuff that you don’t need to pick up, and virtually impossible to move over the floor.


Open to abuse

Crucial to the debate is the fact that these labels are self-certified. This is open to abuse and some of the ratings that have been given by manufacturers are questionable. In all likelihood there will be legal action against the tests and also against the claims of some manufacturers. In Germany, one company has already been forced to change an energy label.

Anyone buying a commercial vacuum cleaner would be well advised to take the claims made on the energy labels with a generous pinch of salt. It is questionable whether criteria used for domestic vacuum cleaners can also apply to professional machines. I believe quality brands will still offer superior performance and remember, whichever cleaner is purchased, the advent of lower power vacuum cleaners may mean that it takes longer to clean a floor than before, even if the energy label suggests ‘A’ rated efficiency. There are also considerable doubts as to whether there will actually be any real savings so it remains to be seen whether the next phase of the energy label due in 2017 will come to pass.